J Med Ethics 38:3 doi:10.1136/medethics-2011-100317
  • Commentary

Assent is not consent

  1. Andrew J Pollard1
  1. 1Oxford Vaccine Group, Department of Paediatrics, University of Oxford, Oxford, UK
  2. 2The Ethox Centre, University of Oxford, Oxford, UK
  1. Correspondence to Amanda Sibley, MPH, Oxford Vaccine Group, Centre for Clinical Vaccinology and Tropical Medicine, Department of Paediatrics, University of Oxford, Churchill Hospital, Oxford OX3 7LJ, UK; amanda.sibley{at}
  1. Contributors All authors contributed equally to this paper.

  • Accepted 25 October 2011


A recent article from Archives of Disease in Childhood outlined problems with the act of gaining child assent for research participation. However the arguments used in the article are incomplete or misguided. Rather than being harmful, assent should be seen as an ethically-appropriate way in which we can engage with the child about his participation in research. While additional clarification of the concept of assent is needed, the child's family context can provide us with a valuable guide to the way we involve him in the decision-making process.


  • Linked article 100242.

  • Funding AS and MS receive funding from the Department of Health's NIHR Oxford Biomedical Research Centre. AJP is a Jenner Investigator and James Martin Senior Fellow.

  • Competing interests None.

  • Provenance and peer review Commissioned; internally peer reviewed.